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Julian Alaphilippe: ‘To win a third world title is my priority’

World champion returns to racing after bout with COVID to prepare for the Vuelta a España and world championship.

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It’s been one step forward and two steps back all season long for Julian Alaphilippe in 2022.

The reigning world champion hits a big result, and then crashes. And when he was back in action at the Tour de Wallonnie last month after missing the Tour de France, he wins, only to get hit by COVID-19.

The Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl captain is hoping the back half of the 2022 season is an open road, and returns to racing at the Tour of Leuven-Memorial Jef Scherens on Sunday, and the Tour de l’Ain starting Tuesday in France.

“I hope the worst is behind me now,” Alaphilippe said Friday. “I’ve been keeping the morale high, and though I’ve been sick again, I am excited to race again. The Vuelta a España is a big objective, so let’s work toward that.”

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Alaphilippe crashed spectacularly at Strade Bianche, and again at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

In between, he’s had moments of trademark brilliance, and seemed to be back on track at the Tour de Wallonnie when he won the opening stage, only to be zapped by COVID two days later.

“Things were complicated after Wallonnie,” he said.”I was sick and it’s been a few weeks more off the rhythm. I am excited to race this weekend, and the Tour d’Ain. And it’s very important ahead of the Vuelta. I hope to do well, but we will see how I feel after COVID.

“The head and the morale is very good. At Wallonnie, the sensations were very good, and I had won the first stage. And then everything came crashing down with COVID. I was sick and I was forced to stop again. That’s life. I have to take it like that. I just don’t know how I will feel when I am back in the race.”

For Alaphilippe, he returns to the Vuelta for only the second time in his career since his debut in the Spanish grand tour in 2017.

“The Vuelta is the next big goal, so that’s why the Tour de l’Ain is going to be important for me. I hope the race will put me on track,” he said.

“For the Vuelta, we have to see,” he said. “If I can back to a normal rhythm and I am back to top form, I can have a good Vuelta. The Tour de l’Ain will be a good test for where I am, and we also have Remco [Evenepoel] there. I have to be a factor, especially in the last week.”

Of course, it’s all about the stripes for 2022.

Even though he’s not had his best of seasons so far, Alaphilippe is hoping he’s back in winning form in time to try to land a third straight world title in Australia.

The hilly course is ideal for him, and he can try to match Peter Sagan as winning three titles in a row.

“The world championships are a big goal for me as well,” he said. “To do the triple would be a dream, and I will try to arrive as good as I can. It’s my priority right now. After the Vuelta, to try to win a third world title is what I am working for.”

Alaphilippe hopes to make up for a  season full of setbacks. (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)